To anyone else she was just another old lady staring blindly in the general direction of the communal TV which was blaring out mindless daytime chat shows for its gathered audience. She wasn’t just any old lady though; she was Eleanor Craig, my grandma.
On first glance she was tiny and frail until her weary, watery eyes met yours in the doorway. The cloud of confusion slowly cleared from her pale blue eyes and was replaced by a sparkling of recognition. As you walked towards her, she appeared to grow, until her presence and welcoming smile filled the room. Arms outstretched as soon as you took your first step towards her, her hands beckoned you greedily into her embrace. A hug from Grandma was like no other. I swear it had medicinal properties. It seemed to wrap you into a cotton-wool world where only you and she existed, and no harm could come to you Despite her 5’2 frame, her soft, cushioned arms enclosed around your shoulders, dragging you into the crook of her neck. Once there, you were rocked from side to side and sang a ditty from her school days. It was comforting and magical; the world could never get you once you were with Grandma.
There was always something regal about Grandma when she sat in her chair. Her personality demanding the respect she had earned and deserved throughout the 94 years of her life. The straightness of her spine aligned perfectly with the back of the chair, hands often clasped in her lap as she listened eagerly to our stories, or crocheted the endless blankets that filled her cupboards – and ours. She wasn’t aloof, we were too poor to be aloof, her manner was affable and playful. Her dresses, conservative florals, were usually blue or purple and served as a blank canvas for the rest of her outfit. She made her mark through her accessorising; 3 or 4 set of plastic beads, bright, often clashing colours and a cardigan or two on a chilly day. brooches. Why choose one when you can wear all your favourites every day? And then there were her rings. Often a ring on every finger that told the story of her life. There was the engagement ring from the 19 year old soldier who didn’t make it back from the war; the engagement ring from Granddad Craig who at 9 years her elder, declared on the day he met her, she was the girl he was going to marry. The green plastic ring that came out of last year’s Christmas cracker but was kept for its colour. A colour that matched her crudely painted fingernails – or at least one or two of them. There was always a story.
It seemed perfectly natural for us to sit on the floor at her feet and memorise her poems. Looking up at her. It didn’t matter how many times we heard them or how many times she repeated herself. It was all part of the deal. All of us children and grandchildren would subconsciously surround her, hanging on her every word, laughing, teasing, looking up at her, looking up to her. We were protecting the family jewel.